MANILA, Philippines – The camp of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno said on Thursday, November 23, that lawyer Larry Gadon is using the resources of the House of Representatives to “fish” for evidence in the impeachment complaint he filed against the top magistrate.
“It has always been our position that the people’s money should never fund a fishing expedition and unfortunately, this was what exactly happened in Wednesday’s [November 22] hearing,” Sereno’s spokesperson Josa Deinla said in a statement on Thursday, November 23.
Deinla criticized some of the members of the House Justice Committee for letting Gadon “get away” with his “fishing expedition.”
“It served to highlight one crucial fact – there is no solid evidence and sufficient grounds for impeachment against the Chief Justice,” he said.
Responding to this, Gadon said that the lower house’s subpoena powers are there precisely in these kinds of situation where additional evidence is needed in an impeachment proceeding.
He said the House panel is only doing its constitutional duty.
“Its proceeding is aimed at knowing the truth and to achieve this, the House can issue subpoenas to invite resource persons and subpoena documents which could help in discovering the truth,” he said.
The justice committee said it will subpoena Associate Justices Teresita Leonardo-de Castro and Noel Tijam, as well as SC Public Information Office chief Theodore Te and SC Clerk of Court Felipa Anama.
But according to court sources, SC justices are now reviewing a resolution issued by the High Court in 2012 that says justices cannot be compelled to testify before an impeachment proceeding.
According to legal expert Tony La Viña, the resolution’s use of the word “compel” might mean that justices can testify if they are willing.
It is not clear yet whether justices need the clearance of the en banc to testify, but La Viña said the justices do not need permission.
“For employees they still have to have ok of the court but not justices,” he said. (READ: Sereno: I'm not the one who's corrupt)
Gadon hit Sereno for supposedly resorting to media mileage instead of personally attending her impeachment proceedings. Sereno was at a forum Thursday morning, where she spoke of the constitutional bodies’ role in upholding human rights in the government’s war on drugs.
"She said she is busy that is why she can not attend the hearings. Now she goes around delivering speeches?” Gadon said.
“She is the one who is publicity hungry now trying to defend herself in media appearances rather than appearing in the House,” he added.
Deinla said Sereno need not be personally present in the hearing as long as her lawyers are there.
“She was present through her counsel, but the Committee did not allow them to participate in the proceedings on the Chief Justice's behalf. They have no interest in passively watching and listening to the proceedings while their client's right to due process is being curtailed,” he said.
Deinla added that Sereno’s public speeches are part of her job as Chief Justice. (READ: Will SALN pin down Sereno? 'A non-issue' says her spokesperson)
“Would the complainant further want to muzzle the Chief Justice in these public spaces?” he said.
The next hearing is set on Monday, November 27. The House Committee on Justice aims to finish the deliberations by December 9, and take the report for a vote at the plenary on December 13.